In the wake of charges facing a local business owner, Morgan City is reviewing its business license application.
In July 2012, Lee Kellogg, owner of LiquiFaction Internet Café at 125 N. State Street, was charged with failure to register as a sex offender, a third-degree felony; and violating regulations that forbid him to visit a protected area, a Class A misdemeanor.
“This is our first experience with something like this,” Morgan City Mayor Jim Egbert said. “With people moving in who we don’t know, we have to be more careful and check them out.”
The Morgan County News reviewed Lee Kellogg’s August 2011 business license application with Morgan City. He provided his name, address, business address, cell phone number, business phone number, email address, driver’s license number, name of business, property owner information, description of business, and state business registration information.
The application asked three questions, which include:
1. Have you been convicted of a felony in the last 5 years?
2. Do you have any pending criminal charges for physical or sexual abuse or exploitation of a minor?
3. In the last 5 years, have you had any judgments against you for engaging in fraud.
Kellogg answered all three questions “no,” which technically is correct since his conviction for three counts of sexual exploitation of a minor, a second degree felony, occurred in 1998, or 13 years prior to his Morgan business application.
According to city code, applicants must alert the city to any changes on their business application within 10 days. Although Kellogg was charged with stalking a minor in Summit County in June 2012, and faces charges in Morgan as well, none of those charges have amounted to a conviction. In addition, those charges don’t fall within the “physical or sexual abuse or exploitation of a minor” category addressed in the city business application. Therefore, the application remains correct.
Egbert said he is considering changing the business license application to inquire if an applicant is a registered sex offender and to inform applicants of a background check requirement.
Up to this point, the city has not conducted background checks on business license applicants. Egbert added that if the city decides to conduct background checks of business license applicants in the future, it could lead to increase license fees for all city businesses.
“We would have to treat every mom and pop business we have the same,” Egbert said. With as many as 500 home businesses in the area, a change has the potential to affect many businesses, he said.
He said the city may also consider changing the three questions, eliminating the “5 year” clauses. If the change is made, the questions would ask if applicants have ever been convicted of a felony or had any judgments against them for engaging in fraud. Another change under consideration is simplifying question 2 to read “Do you have any pending criminal charges?”
“We are re-evaluating things at this moment,” Egbert said. “There’s something that has to be definitively done. In the cases of charges that aren’t yet convictions, we have to be careful legally. But we certainly don’t want them to have a business if they are still a threat to the community.”
According to the current code, the Morgan City Council has the power to revoke or suspend a business license, or place any application in probationary status because of unlawful activities conducted or permitted on business premises, or failure of the applicant to comply with city code.
“If they answer business license application questions incorrectly, we can call them into the city council, review their license, and if needs be, revoke it,” Egbert said.
In August of 2011, Kellogg provided the name “Lee Kellogg” on the business application, which differs from his name “Melvin Lee Kellogg II” and “Lee M Kellogg” used on the state sex offender registry. Kellogg said it was no attempt to hide or mislead anyone when he provided the name “Lee Kellogg” on the Morgan City business license application.
“I just used the name I’ve used my entire life,” Kellogg said.
He said his credit files, credit cards, and school, medical, bank, and tax records are all under the name of “Lee M Kellogg.” Until the drivers license division began requiring birth certificates, his drivers’ license read “Lee M Kellogg” as well. He said his birth certificate is the only place where his name is “Melvin Lee Kellogg II.”
Even so, Egbert is considering asking for future applicants’ “full” names.
Egbert encouraged anyone with any questions about local businesses to call the city.
“Report it and we will check it out,” he said.
Kellogg refrained from commenting on reports that his business will leave the county, saying that his case is still open and he is therefore not allowed to comment on it.